The Tale of Tati

28 November 2020 , ,

Wolfgang Smith

Editor’s Note:  The following is the reprinted Foreword to A Priest and His Dog: The Tale of Tati published by Angelico Press in November 2020.  Illustration by Jerome Atherholt.

Thea and I did not know this would be the last meeting with our precious friend; and just as our taxi was ready to leave for the airport, Malachi Martin handed me a large manila envelope. When I opened it after we were airborne, I found that it contained the story of a friendship — of a deep love in fact — between a little Cairn Terrier named Tati and Malachi Martin himself: “No one had ever shown me the love little Tati gave me,” he confided to his friends.

I welcome the publication of this one-of-a-kind manuscript from the hand of a literary giant — notwithstanding the fact that it is highly personal, and addressed apparently to a circle of kindred spirits. The Tale of Tati  is a rare jewel, and a testament, not only to Malachi Martin’s genius as a story-teller, but above all to his eminence as a sacerdotal servant of Christ.

It needs first of all to be noted that the story exceeds the established genre of animal tales: for heartwarming and deeply moving though it be, it presupposes a certain “openness” to the supernatural, failing which the most precious insights Malachi Martin conveys will remain undisclosed. Not intended, thus, for readers imbued with the wisdom of the world, it calls for the openness of a child before the mysteries of God, which will ever be “foolishness to the Greeks”  (1 Cor. 1:23).

We may take it that Malachi Martin looked upon his canine companion not indeed as an “animal” in the customary sense — a judgment-laden concept — but simply as a “creature of God,” who as such partakes somewhat of His mystery. And this in itself brings the “supernatural” into the picture, not as something extraneous — something imposed, as it were, from outside — but on the contrary: as the innermost element of all, which supports all other constituents of that creature.

But then, if that “innermost element” eludes the sense-based conceptions of the rational mind, by what means or faculty can we know it, to the extent that we do? I believe Malachi Martin would concur that the faculty in question is none other than what mystics call the heart;  and I think he would agree likewise that the knowledge to which that faculty gives access may rightfully be characterized as love:  love at its deepest level, that is.

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To be sure, this is hardly the place to enter upon reflections of this kind, and I will not pursue the metaphysics beyond this point. Nor do we need to: for whosoever has grasped the crux of what has been stated thus far will readily follow what Malachi Martin has to tell us about his little friend. Nor will he find it hard to empathize with Malachi in his ardent hope that this noble creature may ultimately enter into the eternal Love of God — notwithstanding the fact that her animal soul has been declared “mortal” by theologians of note. Who is ever entitled, after all, to set bounds upon that Love! There are pundits, to be sure, parading their wisdom, who would measure all things in heaven and earth with their vaunted yardsticks: let these modern-day Pharisees be chastened, then, and put to shame by the pure love of a little Cairn Terrier.

It appears that The Tale of Tati  breaks new ground. Charming and touching as it may be, its true message and prime significance is spiritual, having to do ultimately with the mystery of the animal soul, and the possibility of its participation in that supreme blessedness termed “life eternal.” The great question is whether that summum bonum  is attainable for the likes of Tati, as our heart would wish — conceivably with the aid of a human intermediary? While not declaring himself on this issue in explicitly metaphysical or theological terms, it appears that Malachi Martin is in fact weighing in heavily on this long-disputed conundrum:  on the side,  that is, of his canine friend.

It follows that, when it comes to The Tale of Tati,  Malachi Martin’s renown as one of the great raconteurs of the twentieth century is insufficient endorsement: we need in addition to know something concerning his credentials as a man of God. We should know, first of all, that Malachi was no stranger to spiritual combat, but a battle-tested soldier of Christ, who had passed through his own “dark night of the soul.” That in 1958 he was elevated to a top position in the Vatican, becoming a confidant of Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI; that he resigned this coveted appointment in 1965 and made his way to New York, where he arrived penniless to begin his career as the leading historian of the Catholic Church and best-selling author. I might mention that when I met Malachi Martin in 1997, he was supporting 49 indigent acquaintances from the proceeds of his best-sellers, while he himself resided in a room barely large enough for his bed, desk, bookshelves, and a humble altar upon which to say Mass. It had been made available to him by a sympathetic Greek family soon after his arrival in New York: and here is where he wrote his books, carried out his voluminous correspondence bringing solace to countless souls — and yes, lived out the tale you are about to read.

Approach it gently, dear reader, “with folded hands” if you are able: a man of God is baring his heart.

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